Published on Academy of American Poets (

Room Tone

Wrestling that old beauty
“Body and Soul”
To the ground

The genus award for epochal comes besotted
Complicity follows like caramel on a sponge mop
Child-bearing babies on stilts

I dreamed you were felled by an unspecified illness
In yours I was rowing a leaky boat, even though
The motor was foolproof and bore hairs

Taken up with travel and foreign visitors
An intimacy implied in big block letters leans
Beside its planar incandescent surrogate

I tend backward haughtily through froth
Abandoned sweetness meaning torpor
Behind gorgeous intervals of removal and need

An alligator in every pot
Keeping company doesn’t count
Dame Kind adjusts her ribbon frills

Give life a shot
Circular breath redemption
At the Door of the Wolf

You heard me


Copyright @ 2014 by Bill Berkson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2014.

About this Poem

“‘Room Tone’ is the last of a set of quite recent, quite thorny poems included at the end of my book Expect Delays, due out from Coffee House Press this fall. I like the fact that in filmmaking and television production room tone (another term for this is ‘presence’) is the ‘silence’ recorded at a location or space when no dialogue is spoken. I'm also aware of the fact that ending a book with a poem of which the last line is ‘You heard me’ may, at best, send the imaginary reader back to ‘square one,’ which is to say, the beginning of the book.”

—Bill Berkson


Bill Berkson

Born in New York City on August 30, 1939, William Craig Berkson studied at Brown University, Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and New York University’s Institute for Fine Arts.

Date Published: 2014-09-04

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